The Pope

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

Whew, what an awesome six days! The United States has been blessed to have experienced a visit from the religious leader of the world, Pope Francis Assisi.

Rather you are Jew, Protestant, Atheist or Muslim, Americans joined their Catholic brothers and sisters in making the Pope’s visit one of the most memorable ones I am certain that the Pope will claim during his papal reign.

He blessed us with messages and actions grounded in the word and works of God. One attribute of a leader is the ability to learn from other leaders. The size or makeup of the following doesn’t matter; it is the principles of leadership that transcend across disciplines as well as secular and religious institutions and organizations.

I can only hope that as I continue the journey of leading the NAACP that my actions and words will be received as principles of leadership grounded in the word and works of God. It is leaders like the Pope Francis, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as local leaders who I will use as my normative gauge in leading an organization whose history is grounded and founded on the word and works of Jesus!

One of the many messages of the Pope that resonated with me was the message of inclusion. For many years the Catholic Church has been bounded in traditions that have resulted in unintended consequences for the church. As opposed to drawing people closer to the Church and the teachings of Christ, the multitude of doctrines grounded in bureaucracy and politics have in fact turned many Catholics away from the church.

One such doctrine, the process of annulment, forbid Catholics to take communion if they have been married and divorced and have not completed the annulment process. Well guess what, the annulment process could take years and get this, the cost has proven to be even more prohibitive.

Well we can guess who left the church, the poor and the divorced.  A 1984 article in the U.S. Catholic magazine estimated that approximately 8 million Catholics left the church because they felt they were no longer accepted. While there was a disagreement among various sources quoted in the article regarding the actual number of Catholics that left the church, there was an acknowledgment that the numbers were alarming.

The Pope’s response: “Let’s cut this process down to 45 days and make it free!” My bet is on the Pope, it is my guess that this one reformed act alone will bring millions of Catholics back to the church!  The Catholic Church, like so many religious and secular organizations, can often lose sight of their mission. As a result, they drift off into making decisions and taking actions that often uproot the one element needed for these institutions to exist—the people!

In 2010 the NAACP celebrated a 100 years of existence. One can imagine the number of rules/doctrines/bylaws that have been constituted during the past century to ensure the smooth operation of this mammoth organization. I can only imagine the number of rules and policies that have been put in place over time regarding the issue of memberships simply because there was a time that being an active member of the NAACP could cost one their life. And it has been in the not too distant past that one could lose their job if it were known members. However, the NAACP like the Catholic Church must experience transformation if it is expected to survive the next 100 years.

As the newly elected president of the St. Petersburg branch, two of the areas I hope to influence change  and transformation is the collaboration with non-traditional community groups and the recruitment of millennials, not only as members within the NAACP, but also into leadership roles.

The NAACP has always been proactive in ensuring its recruitment of its members was diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender; however, within the 40 plus years I have been affiliated with the organization off and on, I am not aware of a strategic focus on the recruitment of young people and succession planning explicitly for the purpose of preparing young people to lead the organization.

For the St. Petersburg branch the change has already begun. Of the branch’s 35 member executive committee, four of its members are considered by sociological construct as Millennials. While the time period may vary depending on the source, the generally accepted time period of these young people’s birth fall between 1982 and 2004, making them as young as 11 years old and as old as 33 years old.

One of our targeted membership focuses will be aimed at bringing these groups of young people 18-39 years old into the NAACP and providing them with leadership tools that will aide them in their future leadership endeavors here in St. Pete or wherever their travels may take them.

It is imperative that the local branch of the NAACP does just as the Catholic Church is doing toward the annulment doctrine. We must be intentional in ensuring that while remaining true to the mission of the NAACP, we are also mindful of how we carry out rules and processes to ensure we are bringing young people to the organization as opposed to turning them away!

~ Maria L. Scruggs

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